Thoughts on this post? Share them with me on Facebook, join the SPANily or Tweet me at @angieatkinson. ~Angie

Toxic family relationships can take a toll on anyone who has to deal with them, especially when mental illness is involved.

Any sort of mental illness among family members, especially left untreated, can cause stress and discord in the family, but sometimes, the affected person doesn’t even realize there’s a problem.

If you’ve ever dealt with someone with narcisisstic personality disorder (NPD), you’ll know exactly what I mean.

“They tend to exaggerate in an immensely obvious way – as people they’re unusual in their personality,” says clinical psychologist Jillian Bloxham. “It becomes very evident when a person is narcissistic.”

Healthy self-esteem is important for everyone, but some people develop an over-inflated sense of self-importance that leads to the belief that other people’s feelings, thoughts and beliefs have no relevance.

This is the first sign many people recognize in a person who suffers from NPD.

NPD is a tricky condition, because often, narcissists don’t even realize anything is wrong. They have a sense of personal entitlement that causes them to expect people around them to cater to their every desire, to anticipate their every need and to respond post-haste in fulfilling them.

“It is good to think highly of yourself – but for these people it is out of control,” says personality disorders expert and consultant forensic psychologist Kerry Daynes. “It has gone off the scale.”

Do you know a narcissist?

Narcissists tend to be caught up in their own lives, their own personal worlds. This means that in general, they have no time to consider the feelings, thoughts or needs of the people around them.

Rather than offer sympathy if you are dealing with pain or frustration, they’ll just share some of their own with you (which, of course, will be far more serious than your own.)

While a narcissist may appear to be an upbeat, happy person to outsiders in his or her life, people who know him or her intimately are likely to see a whole other personality.

This can manifest in several ways–but a primary marker is that they are unable to empathize with those around them, and they consistently blame others for problems they’ve caused.

Since narcissists tend to see other people as objects or possessions, they cannot fathom it when they are not obeyed or catered to.

If the person is a friend or acquaintance, the narcissist may just discard them and pretend they don’t exist–but if it’s a family member, things can get more serious.

For example, the narcissist may try to pressure the family member into conforming to his or her wishes, and if that doesn’t work, additional and potentially life-altering steps may be taken to get what is desired.

Because narcissists are incapable of empathizing with others, they don’t even consider (or care) how their words or actions could affect others–and they will never admit that they are wrong.

Instead, they will play the victim and use the situation to gain more attention from others around them.

As with any other toxic family situation, it may be best to distance yourself from a person with NPD. This is especially true because they don’t generally realize that anything is wrong.

Plus, there is currently no known “cure” for NPD–though if a person affected with it seeks therapy, change is possible. However, it’s very unusual for a person with NPD to seek therapy since they don’t see a problem with their behavior.

“Why would someone who thinks they’re special and great come for therapy?” Bloxham says.

Do you think someone you love might have NPD? Tell me in the comments. 


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11 Responses to Toxic Family Relationships: Identifying Narcissistic Personality Disorder

  1. After realizing that I had 2 employees that appeared to have this disorder I started studying it. I was fascinated.
    Turns out that I always thought my father was bipolar, I did not recognize until yesterday how perfectly he fit the category. Cruel, abusive, sadistic and always managing to make everyone feel it was their fault, not his.
    I was so happy that everything finally fell into place. He was a classic.
    It is one of those things that tends to cause other family members to become either narcistists or adopt behaviors such as drugs, alcohol, other forms of abuse, because they become so confused.
    There was one key thing that I did not see about this until yesertday, his mother was as bad as he was, maybe even worse. Her own daughter locked her in a room and starved her to death and later committed suicide. How is that for toxic rage?
    It has ben such a relief to me to finally make sense of all of this. I never saw all the pieces of the puzzle until now and it has been very liberating for me in many ways.
    These people are so toxic that the best option is to get them out of your life the minute you realize what they are doing.
    My grandmother is the perfect example, murdered by her own daughter in the slowest , cruelest way possible, starvation.
    The rage of an unhappy narcisist is something to take seriously, get out of harm's way! They are NOT in control!

    • Wow, Robbie, that is a sad story, but I know exactly what you mean when you say that it’s liberating to make sense of it all. I have had a simialr experience–it wasn’t my fault after all. And I’m glad you can see that it’s not yours either. Stay strong, and take care of yourself. Hugs to you!

  2. This is my mother all the way top this with clinical depression and the fact that she never wanted me kept me to keep my father and when that didnt work she despised me, she has always has this complexion issue to from her childhood and growing up dark skin with a sister lighter and her mom favored my aunt so me being light just made her more distant to me, 8 years ago she called childrens service on me because i wouldnt leave my than boyfriend who later became my husband alone. now that we are divorced and i no longer speak to her after all the years of abuse from her she has started calling him telling him all kinds of untruths about me as a mom and woman, and of course he is bitter i left so he uses it to his advantage, the only thing is he know me so i know he is only siding with her to hurt me but she still has not stopped she tells my brown skinned kids i dont really love them and that i i use to abuse starve and keep a dirty house none of this is true and i dont want my kids in the middle of such negative stuff so i say nothing in retaliation, they deserve to have some type of relationship with their grandmother but she is making my life a living hell!! I have thought about suicide just to get away from the pain of her evil ways than she would be “winning ” getting her abortion 40 years after my birth. Anytime im happy she comes in with drama, she hates to see me achomplish anything. she has started so much drama between me and my kids fathers with these lies, i sometimes feel stuck in hell.

    • Latisha, I understand completely. I have dealt with similar situation with a prominent woman in my own life. Your story could almost be mine, save for the issue with complexion. I hope it helps you to know that you’re not alone. I have also cut ties with the person in my life who caused the drama, and it’s truly for the best. Stay strong, girl. Hugs!

  3. This sounds alot like my ex husband. We were together for 11 years and throughout most of our relationship I have been made to feel like I wasnt able to live up to his perfect expectations. Nothing I ever did or gave or sacrificed was ever noticed,appreciated or valued. I can’t even tell you why I stayed with him for so long other than there is a part of me that loves him, however my self esteem was damaged so much throughout our life together I simply did not feel like I deserved anything better. He made me feel so broken that I didn’t think anyone else would ever want me and he was my only option. He decided he wanted a divorce and took complete control of my weakend emotional state. He would never admit to wrong doing on his part, it was always me not being able to give him what he needed. What about what I needed? No acceptance, no validations, nothing. the lies and betrayals just seemed to add up over the years and used as excuses all because I wasn’t a certain way. It truly is emotionally exhausting and the worst part is you’re stuck in the middle and can’t even see what’s going on around you. These people with these disorders create such a self doubt within you that you feel you can’t be without them.
    The worst part is my ex husband continued for awhile after the divorce to reconcile, saying he missed me and felt bad for everything. I really wanted to believe him and of coarse being emotionally weakend gave him several chances, but each time I was left heartbroken and felt useless to him. It was all about him all the time, every conversation had to revolve back to him and my feelings were unnoticed by him. If we did have a disagreement it was always my fault for not being the type of woman he needed and then he would confide in women friends about things he refused to share with me. This is a very manipulative, inconsiderate and unemotional disorder to deal with. He didn’t care what he said, if it was harsh, hurtful or anything. If I tried to communicate with him about something that was bothering me he pulled away completely sometimes not talking to me for weeks (as we were no longer living together) he went on about his life with no regard to how his actions were effecting me. I am still recovering from the amount of emotional damage that this unhealthy relationship has caused me and I struggle with him still popping up when it’s convenient only for him. This is NO way to live and I can only suggest if you see the signs get out running fast!

    • The feelings you describe in your post are dead on. I too experienced this for over 20 years in my relationship. I am sorry that you had to endure this for so long. But the good news is it is over and you can move on with your life and finally find true happiness. Being out of the toxic relationship and realizing it was HIM and not you provides immediate relief from a lot of the pain, but it still takes a very long time to deal with the after effects and to find yourself again. I am divorced with teen-aged children, and though the court might frown upon it, my communication with him is practically non-existent; basically it is on a need-to-know basis and mostly done via email and text. It is impossible to ever have normal conversations with people like this as they are very skilled at manipulating you and your feelings and twisting your words around to suit their needs. You are no longer married to him, you have no obligation to submit yourself to his psychological damage. Keep your verbal communication with him down to zero if possible. Email and text if needed.

      You are a good person and you deserve and will find happiness one day. I wish you the best in your healing process.

  4. My current boyfriend may be narcissistic – or it may be something else. He owns his own company, Harvard & Oxford graduate, wealthy and very handsome. But (and this is a big but) he lies like crazy. His children from his first wife are horrible and yet he thinks they are perfect. His employees who steal from him are never doing anything wrong. He tells everyone we met in Alaska when we met in PA. He also tells everyone I’m from Maine but I only have an office there. My home is in PA. His recollection of events is also very skewed. I was with him and yet in his version things are always different – he wins. He refuses to plan ahead and instead just goes like the wind expecting evryone to accomodate his plans. He also takes extreme risks – flying his plane in bad weather and biking at night without any lights rather than biking during daylight hours. He flies a single engine plane over oceans without any concern for an engine failure. He scuba dives in shark infested water – without any concern. He loves me but has little empathy. He dominates most conversations with his own opinions on world matters and what he’s done lately. He loves attention. But he also is very good to my children (giving them more attention than he does his own children – who he sees only rarely). He gives his children loads of money – and refuses to ever punish them. Even after his daughter stole his car – wrecked it – with a boy many years older – and she had no drivers license! Instead, he hugged her (he claims she was mentally beating herself up for doing what she did – so why punish her?) had the car fixed, and she wrecked it again. He sees nothing wrong with her actions – or his son who is failing high school and yet he sends him on a vacation with his friends to Mexico at the age of 17! He says how “proud” he is of his children. His ex-wife is also perfect. And his employees. But yet his employees tell me how bad it is – and that he should fire more people due to extreme incompetance. But he says only great things about them. I love him but don’t understand his actions. He’s a millionaire and yet asks me to split the bill when we go out. I’m perplexed by all this. Help!!

  5. Thanks so much for your article. I am realizing this fits my younger brother. He did something 5 years ago that upset my aging parents on thier birthdays and I told him how he should have considered keeping it to himself as they didn’t need the heartache. He became enraged over the situation and even though I apologized 5 times – he won’t forgive. In fact he has become more angry and treats me as a villan. My father passed away a year and a half ago and my brother still is so angry he won’t speak to me. He is very proud of the fact that he hasn’t spoken to me for 5 years. Now he is trying to force my elderly mother to accept some of his bad behavior and threatening to cut her off from communication as well. He has been verbally abusive to her on a recent visit blaming her for problems of his past even though she has apologized in the past for the some of the ways she raised him. It is like he doesn’t hear it. This man is 40 years old and just seems to only care about himself. I have been very hurt by his behavior but he seems to take pride in hurting me over this.

  6. The two major systems of classification, the ICD and DSM, have deliberately merged their diagnoses to some extent, but some differences remain. For example, ICD-10 does not include narcissistic personality disorder as a distinct category, while DSM-5 does not include enduring personality change after catastrophic experience or after psychiatric illness.-‘.;

  7. Do you, or how do you confront a family member whom you believe has NPD? My sister has all of the classic symptoms. She is causing some problems in our family with me and two other siblings and I find her behavior very disturbing. I find it very difficult to think of her as my sister because her personalty has changed so much.

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